Part One: A Debt She Doesn't Owe[4753 words]
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"Deep breaths, Schmuse. In, out, in, out. Exhale out all of the weight from your body. Think about the air around you, be the air around you."
An air faerie with a lilac dress instructed a purple xweetok very soothingly, as if she were a meditation instructor. But this was no mind-cleansing relaxation sensation, and the purple xweetok in front of the faerie was no ordinary xweetok. Schmusekatzen was a neopet who was privileged enough to get to study magic in Faerieland. She took this privilege very seriously. It was getting late, but she was committed to learning the spell before she went home tonight.
Schmuse tried to keep her breath steady. She tried to imagine the weight of her body melting away into nothingness. And yet her paws remained grounded. Come on, come on! Why can't I float? What's wrong with me? The xweetok's legs began to tremble.
"You're losing focus, Schmuse, stay with it! You're tensing up, the spell won't work!" Another air faerie called out. This one had an icy blue dress unlike her comrade, and she spoke more like a middle school gym teacher than a gentle yoga instructor.
"I can't do it!" The xweetok gasped out. She gave up on her deep, slow, breaths. "I'm sorry... for wasting your time. I've been sitting in this spot and trying to float for three hours now, I don't think it's gonna happen..." Her ears drooped, dejected.
The air faerie with the blue dress sighed. "Does this mean we get to go home now? Thank Fyora, I wouldn't have come if I had known this would take so long." Her purple-donned co-teacher scoffed at her.
"You don't have to be here if you're going to talk like that in front of the pupil!" She composed herself and turned to face Schmuse with a much softer gaze. "Listen.... Schmuse. I think you're a great xweetok... and that you have a lot of potential. But I also....." She swallowed before continuing, knowing that what she was about to say could sting. "Well, I think there's a reason that air faeries have hollow bones and strong wings..."
"You think I'm not cut out for air faerie magic..." Schmuse muttered.
"No! No, no, no, not at all, honey! I just think... that it might be a bit harder for you on average... that's all. But, if you really, and I mean really stuck at it, then-"
The blue dressed air faerie interjected "Well, I think she's not cut out for air faerie magic. Listen, kid, I know it hurts." She shook her head in disappointment. "But it also hurts us to watch you cry and scream and try to float for several hours twice every single week. You can keep studying air magic if you want to, Schmuse, but I can't be your teacher anymore."
Schmuse began to choke on tears. "No, no, it's okay, you're right. I know."
"Are you gonna be okay, Schmuse?" The nicer of the two faeries asked. "I know this must be really hard for you. Especially after you've already gone through hard times with fire faerie magic.... and earth faerie magic.... and, well, then there's your sister..."
"Yeah, yeah" Schmuse interrupted the moment her sister was mentioned. "I'll be fine."
"Which one was her sister?" The blue-gowned air faerie interrupted as she fiddled with one of her fingernails, clearly disinterested.
"Are you kidding me? There's only two xweetoks that live in Faerieland. Which one do you think is her sister?"
"Sappho? The pink one? Wow, I never would have guessed, to be honest. I heard she is top of her class-"
"I think you need to leave" The air faerie with the lilac gown stepped in front of Schmuse. "Before you say something that Fyora will make you regret."
Schmuse could hear a grunt from the other air faerie. "Hmph, I was just about to." A swoop of the wings carried her out of the study room.
The xweetok looked up at the air faerie that remained in the room with her. "Thanks... And don't worry. I still haven't studied light magic.... or water magic... maybe I still haven't found my forte yet." Her voice's conviction did not match the hopefulness of her words, and her ears remained down.
"Okay... Well, let me know if you need any help, Schmuse." The faerie sighed. "And don't listen to her, okay? Some air faeries are so bird-brained."
Schmuse barely laughed. "Thank you..."
Later that night, Schmuse paced up and down the castle foyer. She knew she had to break the bad news to Fyora. I can't believe this, she gave me a place to stay, a roof over my head, and an opportunity to study magic, and I've already flunked out of my third type of magic. What's wrong with me!
When Fyora walked into the room, she was covered in pollen and there were flower petals in her hair. Schmuse could tell this meant that she had just been with Sappho, enjoying all of the wondrous earth magic she had. She paused her thoughts and ran up to greet her Queen at once.
"Schmuse! It's great to see you! It feels like it has been a while since we last spoke, I presume your studies have kept you busy?"
"Yes!" Schmuse rushed to compose herself. "I've been working hard. Um, let me show you a couple things, actually!" Schmuse explained all the work in the different types of magic she had been doing, beginning by showing Fyora a small fire spell to light some candles in the hall. Then, she added a touch of life to a wilting castle plants, although she didn't have as much earth magic as Sappho, she still had some, after all.
"Oh, Schmuse! That's amazing! But I thought you were studying air magic?" She stopped herself. "I think you have potential in any one of these types of magic, though!"
Schmuse's brief moment of pride in herself turned into embarrassment."Well, I don't know if I'll keep going with any of these types of magic."
"Oh?" Fyora inquired.
"Fire magic is a bit too destructive for me, my sister is way, way, ahead of me in earth magic, so there's no point in me studying it too, and air faerie magic is, well, actually super hard without wings."
"I see" Fyora said. "Well, Schmuse. I want you to practice magic that you enjoy, so if you haven't found that yet, you should keep going. But if you have, then we can find a way to put those worries aside so you can do what you love. Okay? And don't compare yourself to your sister. You're allowed to do the same type of magic as her, my dear-"
Schmuse smiled. It was a warm sentiment from Fyora, but she knew deep down that her magic wasn't providing Fyora with something, like Sapphos was. "Is it true, she really repaired all those treehouses today?"
Fyora chuckled. "Why don't you ask her yourself? She told me you never talk to her anymore. It's all magic this, magic that with you these days. Her words, not mine."
"What?" Schmuse burst out. "I absolutely do talk to her! I say good morning to her every single day! I pass by the dining quarters on my way to the study room while she eats breakfast-"
"And then you go and eat your breakfast in the study room by yourself." Fyora contested. "All I'm saying is that there is more to life than studying magic."
She watched Fyora stand up and return to her duties without giving her a pat on the head, something she did frequently for Sappho. A flower from her palm, pat on the head. A statue newly adorned with vines, pat on the head. Schmuse just wanted to feel that same sense of pride from making Fyora happy at least once. Something about that hurt.
With only two types of magic left to study, Schmuse spent the next couple months devoting herself to a dual study of light and water magic. Neither of them really had the spark of passion that she was looking for. Schmuse had spread herself thin between so many types of magic that she wasn't excelling at any of them, despite her long hours studying. Meanwhile, Sappho was repairing cut-down trees and doubling crop yields at local farms. Although Fyora would never say out loud that she had a favorite, Schmuse could see the stark contrast between her unrestrained joy while watching Sappho create lush gardens from nothing, and the way she nodded and calmly smiled as she oversaw Schmuses volunteering at the healing springs.
Although magic wasn't bringing Schmuse any happiness, she continued to study it, cycling through the types freely, mastering none of them. She had become jaded to the way that Fyora looked at her sister. And she spent the rest of her teenage years that way, living a numbing life and pouring so much work into magic that could never come anywhere near what Sappho was doing.
When Schmuse got older, she met Delina, the crafting Faerie, and she realized there was a type of magic she had not yet studied. Dark Magic. What was dark magic? Why was there only one dark faerie in all of Faerieland? She had so many questions for Delina, she couldn't help herself from asking them all at once. Delina laughed.
"Schmuse, was it? Nice to finally meet ya, I've heard all about you from your sis and Fyora!" She shook Schmuses paw. "Truth is, I'm actually not the only dark faerie. And the other truth is, well, kid, that was about the only thing you said that I could understand." Schmuse blinked as she realized how overenthusiastic she had been, but before she could apologize, Delina laughed and continued on. "How about this, I've been craving a Flaming Fire Faerie Pizza all day, let's go to lunch and we can split one, my treat, and you can ask me whatever you need to know. One at a time, so I can actually answer it all."
Schmuse agreed, and about 15 minutes later, she learned that she did NOT like spicy food and asked the waitress for a glass of milk to accompany her Flaming Fire Faerie Pizza.
"It's okay, squirt" Delina chuckled. "I was the same way the first time I ever tried this stuff."
"Really?" Schmuse asked hoarsely as she fanned her tongue.
"Nah, but you can believe it if it makes you feel better. Anyways, what were you saying? Dark faeries, magic, spells, what in the heynow?"
The waitress returned with the milk. Schmuse took a sip, and did her best to compose herself. "I was wondering if you could teach me dark magic."
Delina's easygoing jokester facade began to break, and she started to look a little uncomfortable. "Oh, you were?"
Schmuse kept going on, seemingly not noticing. "Yeah, I've been having a hard time with the other five types of magic. I even tried to practice physical combat with Aethia the battle faerie for a week, but, I just haven't been able to find something I can do in Faerieland that I feel like I'm really meant for, you know?"
Delina sighed. "I hear you, kid. To tell ya the truth, I feel the same way about dark magic"
Schmuse's ears turned. "Really? But, you're a dark faerie."
"Yeah" Delina looked to the side. "And I didn't ask to be one. The other dark faeries... ain't like me. They've hurt a lot of friends of mine, neopets, other faeries, even lil petpets! Who hurts a petpet?"
Schmuse looked concerned. "But... you use your dark magic for good, right? That's why Fyora likes you and lets you live here?"
Delina laughed. "I don't use my dark magic at all. I've always had more fun tinkering with things in the workshop, I don't need magic to live my life. I'm the crafting faerie, now. I wouldn't even call myself a true dark faerie."
Schmuse looked a little sad. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I should try something that isn't magic..." She always thought that the lives and culture of the faeries revolved around that concept, magic. It was so wondrous to her as a kid, to be able to live this magical life with the faeries and her sister. But maybe she wasn't meant to be magical, maybe she was meant to do something very un-magical, like tinkering in a workshop, like Delina.
Delina picked up on how sad Schmuse was to hear this. "Hey, wait." Schmuse barely looked up. "Just because I don't use my dark magic doesn't mean I don't remember a couple spells."
Schmuse lit up. "Really?" This was a dream come true.
And it really was- a dream come true, that is- until the coursework was over with, very quickly.
"Well... should I give you a final exam? A cap and gown? Ya did it, squirt!" Delina cheered.
"But... I only learned two spells."
Delina sighed. "I told ya, kid, I don't have much to teach. But hey! You made that void on your first try! And the shape was perfect, so circular!"
Schmuse sighed. "But it barely would have been able to suck up a mootix, it was so small."
The crafting faerie chuckled. "That's not yer fault, squirt. I only bothered to remember the easy stuff. There's much more complex incantations that let you make bigger voids. Trust me, for what you've got, you're doing great. I think you've got a real knack for this." She crossed her arms, proud of her brand new apprentice.
"Really?" Schmuse lit up. No one had ever told her that she had a knack for something before. "But, there was also the shadow separation spell. My shadow disobeyed the second she left the room..."
"Bah!" Delina made a dismissive gesture with her hand. "That's her deal. Every magic user who wants to use shadow separation has to form a bond with their shadow first. You can't expect dark magic to just behave like that. But I know there's this dark faerie Jhudora who's so good at it, she can send her shadow on missions in other countries!"
"Wow!" Schmuse's eyes lit up "There are so many things to be learned with dark magic. Is there any way we can pay a visit to Jhudora? I bet she has a lot to teach. Has she written a book?"
Delina let out a snort. "She probably has, and then put a hex on that book, and now anyone who reads it or even looks at it will have some kind of horrible curse bestowed on them. Trust me, squirt, she's bad news."
"I could offer to help with her chores. I really don't mind, and besides, I don't think anyone in their right mind would dislike a bit of help"
"Do you really wanna do her chores? She probably has the grossest chores you could think of. Plus, what if she makes ya do something real wicked?"
Schmuse shook her head. "I'm smart enough to know when I'm being taken advantage of. I can stand up for myself."
"Listen, kid. Jhudora is not someone ya mess with. Now drop it-"
"Please!" Schmuse grabbed Delina's hand and interrupted her. "You don't understand, Delina. This is my only chance at being good at something."
Delina reluctantly looked at Schmuse and let out a huff. "I have a feeling that if I say no, yer gonna sneak out, do it yerself, and wind up dead or worse." She rubbed her forehead, knowing this was probably a bad idea. "I'm coming with you, squirt. But the second things turn sour, we leave, am I clear?!"
"As glass!" Schmuse was ecstatic, she gave the crafting faerie a hug. "Oh, thank you, Delina! I promise we'll be safe, and we can leave as soon as anything bad happens."
Delina smiled and returned the hug. "Pack some good climbing shoes, squirt. She lives up on that jagged tower over Faerieland. It's not too far, but the slope'll get ya."
Schmuse was very happy to announce this new journey of hers to Fyora the night before her departure. She wanted nothing more than to make Fyora proud of her studies. But when she said the name "Jhudora", the atmosphere of the room changed.
"You will be doing no such thing," Fyora boomed in a strict voice that was unfamiliar to Schmuse. She had never heard the Queen speak with such intensity.
"I was already hesitant about letting you use dark magic, but I allowed it, since you were studying under the supervision of Delina. However, I don't trust Jhudora. And I don't want you roaming around outside of Faerieland."
"I'll be careful, I promise-"
"You won't be, because you aren't going." Fyora sighed. "Why do you want to study dark magic so badly? You were doing just fine in all of the other types of magic."
Schmuse began to hold back tears. "Yeah, you're right. I was doing just fine. I wasn't getting any better than 'just fine'. That was the problem." She tried not to choke on her words.
Fyora softened her gaze. "Listen, Schmuse. Let's talk tomorrow. It's very late, my dear. I am willing to help you in any of the other kinds of magic. You have great potential. Okay?"
Schmuse sighed. For the first time ever, Fyora gently patted Schmuse's head before she left. It didn't feel as good as she thought it would. She didn't feel proud of herself, in fact, she felt more ashamed than she ever had before. Schmuse stared at the motionless marble floor as she listened to the click-clack of Fyora's high heels get quieter, and quieter, and then fade into silence, as she walked down the castle halls. The absence of click-clacking was followed by the fwop-fwopping of... work boots? Schmuse turned around, and there was Delina.
"Psst! What did you do that for?" Delina whispered. "Just because I'm a ~good~ dark faerie doesn't mean I follow all of the rules! This was supposed to be our little secret!"
Schmuse gave Delina a glare. "How was I supposed to know that? You didn't tell me!"
Delina looked off to the side. "I thought it was obvious that this info wasn't for Fyora! Hello? Evil magic lady? Studying abroad? Anyways, change of plans, we're sneaking out tonight."
"What?!" Schmuse replied.
"Do you have a better idea?"
"Maybe we could... talk it out with Fyora tomorrow?"
"Kid, do ya really wanna try that?"
Schmuse thought about how much trouble she was already in, and how that would make it so much worse. "Good point."
"Alright, squirt, go get your stuff. I'll be waiting outside the castle." Delina's wings carried her off the floor and stealthily through an open wlndow.
As Schmuse went off to her room to pack her things for the journey, she was stopped. Her sister Sappho was leaning against the doorframe. "What are you packing for, Schmu? There's a suitcase set up in our room, halfway packed. What's going on?" Her tone sounded confrontational.
"Oh, well, Delina and I were just gonna have a little... outing. You know, I guess she's really into camping, so, uh, we're going to go on a camping trip. Right outside Faerieland." Schmuse was trying very hard to lie to her sister, but every word she said sounded forced.
Sappho was annoyed. "Fyora told me you've been studying dark magic and acting weird all week." She took her weight off the doorframe and stood up straight "I know there's a dark faerie who lives up in that jagged cliff above faerieland. Her name was something like... I wanna say Judith? Judah?"
Schmuse swallowed "Jhudora..."
"Yep, I think that was it. Anyways, I thought I overheard that name, so where are you really going, and why do you have so many pairs of climbing cleats packed if you're not heading up a cliff?"
"Sappho, I- Well, it's not what you think, I mean, it's just, I, uh-"
Sappho shook her head. "I knew it." She looked at her younger sister, eyes beginning to cloud with tears. "It doesn't matter what you're going for, Schmu. It's not worth it. I need to show you something, come on, follow me." Sappho looked to the left, then to the right, then to the left again, making sure the coast was clear before motioning Schmuse to follow her down the castle hallways. As they made their way, Schmuse realized she had never taken the time to explore the castle beyond the way into her room, the way out of her room, and the way to the bathroom. She was always too busy studying magic to explore with her sister. This new combination of twists and turns was unfamiliar territory for her. Finally, they arrive at a room where Schmuse had never been, nor had she ever known this hallway existed. The room was completely empty, with a single blanket-covered object that was about the same size as the sisters, just a little bigger.
Sappho carefully closed the door behind them, not making a sound, and then pulled the blanket off, revealing a statue. A xweetok statue. The xweetok had two small braids in her hair and the rest of it flowing wildly. She wore a loose shirt and low skirt, and a belt that held a mysterious sack. Her hands were raised in the air as if she was performing a spell and her eyes had a scornful look in them.
Schmuse didn't know what this had to do with Jhudora. "A xweetok statue? I don't understand." Schmuse inquired.
Sappho sighed. "It's not a statue.." Her voice sounded heavy. "Fyora caught me in here once and told me I was never meant to see this, and I promised her I'd never show you or tell you, but I think you deserve to know. This is no statue, it's a real xweetok. She was turned to stone by a powerful dark spell."
Schmuse gasped. "Should we help her? Did Jhudora do this? Is that why you're showing me?"
Sappho shook her head. "No, Schmuse. She did this to herself. She didn't work for Jhudora, but she's an example of the cruelty that the outside world, especially dark magic, can bring. This xweetok believed in a world with only neopets and no faeries. She thought they were too powerful, too magical. She used a spell to turn all the faeries to stone and bring Faerieland crashing and burning to the ground." Sappho sighed. She expected Schmuse to reply, but a heavy, awkward, silence followed. She didn't like the silence, so she kept going. "Did you know Faerieland used to be a floating island in the sky? Well, it all came down because of her. Fyora is still picking up the pieces of her mess."
Schmuse had tears in her eyes as she listened to this story. How could someone, someone who was just like her, do this to Fyora and all the other faeries?
Sappho waited for a response again, but she couldn't bare the silence that she got instead. So she continued, "..anyways, the spell backfired. It turned her into stone instead of the faeries. Fyora keeps her here, in this room. She thinks that one day, she can be freed from stone and taught to use her magic for good instead."
Schmuse felt blinded by rage toward this Xweetok. Fyora has always been nothing but kind and benevolent to neopets, even if the faeries had more magic than they did, they were always willing to share, willing to help. She felt her face turn hot. "She... really thinks there's still some semblance of good in this monster?"
Sappho smiled. "Oh, Fyora sees the good in everyone. You know, right after her spell, a lot of people thought that all xweetoks were no good. Someone even rounded up a bunch of baby xweetoks and gave us to Fyora to sacrifice so that we wouldn't hurt anyone else. But Fyora saw the good in us. She was able to return most of the baby xweetoks to their parents, but, I guess not us. We were... both too young to remember, although sometimes I do wonder whether our parents are still out there." Sappho spoke in a bittersweet tone. Although there were a lot of questions she had about her family, she seemed to be at peace with her origins and her arrival in Faerieland. She assumed Schmuse would be too.
But she quickly noticed that Schmuse didn't seem calm about this revelation. She turned around as she heard a noise and noticed that Schmuse had fallen to her knees, hyperventilating.
Schmuse could barely speak in between panicked breaths. She covered part of her face with a paw. "Fyora took us in... after someone who looks just like us took everything from her."
Sappho realized what was happening, she realized Schmuse felt guilty. "Schmuse, you are not like her. Neither of us are. Just because we're the same species-"
"And I... I haven't been able to repay her... You've been helping her so much, with... the castle gardens and... the earth faerie's tree houses, and I've just been... trying to find out what type of magic... makes me happy. How selfish was that?"
Sappho didn't know what to say. She tried to extend a paw to help Schmuse stand up, but Schmuse didn't reach for it.
Schmuse somehow managed a single firm word. "No..." The tears that she was holding in began to flow. She wasn't shocked or scared anymore, she was upset and angry. "This isn't right. I took so much from Fyora while she should have been rebuilding what she lost. It's not right, she deserves better than this, she deserves better than me, how could I have not realized? Why didn't I ever question why we were the only xweetoks living here? What if-" Schmuse froze. "What if Fyora... and all of Faerieland would have been better off and closer to being rebuilt if they never took us in?" As Schmuse said the words out loud, she felt crushed by the implications they carried.
Sappho was older, and more extroverted than her studious recluse of a sister. She spent more time socializing with the faeries. She knew in her heart and her mind that Fyora didn't think of the sisters as a burden, and that many of the faeries considered them to be good friends and members of their community, but it was hard not to internalize the comments her sister made. "Schmuse, that's... not-"
"I'm going to Jhudora's bluff."
Sappho paused for a moment before replying. "But I just showed you how dangerous and powerful dark magic can be!"
Schmuse didn't even look up. "No, this made it obvious. Out of all six types of magic I've tried, I've only been good at one of them. If I ever want to repay Fyora, I have to learn to master it." Schmuse stood up, but refused to make eye contact. "I can use dark magic for good. If dark magic can bring entire cities to the ground, it can protect those cities too." She wiped her tears and pushed Sappho out of the way, heading into their bedroom to collect her partially packed bag. She picked up three extra things that were on the floor near the bag, zipped it up, and swung it over her shoulder.
She gave up on her original plan to sneak out. She ran through the halls until she saw Aethia, who was positioned at the front door as castle guard.
"Aethia, I'm going on a journey, for me, okay? Tell Fyora that I'm safe, and that I'll come back right away if there's any trouble."
Aethia sighed reluctantly. "You're all grown up now, Schmu, I can't tell you what you can't do. Just be safe okay?" Aethia gave the purple xweetok a firm goodbye hug. Schmuse smiled. For a second, she felt like at least one faerie really loved her for who she was, and not for the magic she could use. But it was fleeting, and her mind was already made up.
Schmuse waved goodbye one last time and met up with Delina. Aethia watched them disappear into the night as they departed.
Sappho finally burst out of the castle door, desperately trying to run after her sister. She caught her breath for a moment before letting out a heavy sigh and looking up at Aethia, eyes full of concern.
"Oh hey, Sappho. Say, where's your sister going? She left with Delina but she didn't say where."
Sappho closed her eyes. It was too late. She opened them one last time and took a last look around the courtyard, convincing herself that she would catch a glimpse of them one last time. She thought about the possibility that this would be the last time she ever saw her sister alive, and nervously gripped onto the hem of her dress. When she realized they were gone and that she wouldn't be able to see them, she looked at Aethia with concern in her eyes and replied.
"She's off to repay a debt she doesn't owe."